Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We're going to Italy

I am off tomorrow on a nice trip to visit some wineries from Liberty's portfolio over the next few days. We will visit Lorenzon, Felluga, Pieropan, Allegrini amongst others. I will report next week when I am back and try not to be too smug about it.....

Monday, September 22, 2008

The wrong question. again.

The eloquent Rosemary Garth is on the radio, arguing that putting up duty on the booze is a bad idea. Needless to say, I agree. There is also some old codger from some anti-alcohol group saying we drink too much saying that, compared to 21 years ago, per capita consumption is up 1.5%! Is this right? It seems very small, no?

Once again, it is not what we drink, but HOW we drink that is the problem. Drinking too much all at once and then falling around the streets, getting sick, starting fights and ending up in A&E is a good night out for some idiots. Why is this seen as a good thing? This is the question that needs to be answered.

The question that most people want to answer is "How can we screw more money out of the average wine/beer drinker and camouflage it as a health measure?".

As usual in this country, not only are we coming up with the wrong answers, we are not even asking the right questions.

Even I am getting bored thinking about it.....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yet more anti-drink hysteria...

Yes, here we go, there is a Dr. Smith on the radio saying that we should ban alcohol advertising, make it more expensive and difficult to buy.

The ultimate aim, he says, is to change our attitudes to drinking and being drunk. Using the southern European countries - Italy, Spain etc - as an example, he says it is an embarassment to be drunk, whereas here, it seems to be the whole point of drinking.

I agree with the ultimate aim and have myself used these countries as an example in the past. But I don't agree with how you get there. Let's compare North v South Europe for a moment.

Northern Europe - high taxes on alcohol, restricted availability and selling hours. Result: high consumption, major binge drinking and young people drunk on the streets. Periodic hand-wringing by ineffectual politicians.

Southern Europe - low or no taxes on alcohol, wide availability and alcohol on sale 24/7. Result: slim, attractive people sipping wine with their dinner and going about their business in civilised manner. Really nice weather as well.

We are supposed to be the Mediterraneans of the North (where did that come from?), so why not copy our swarthy cousins?

Who knows, maybe the weather might even improve!!


I see C&C have offloaded Findlater Grants to DCC for €9.6 million, which presumably will now be merged with DCC's wine arm, Woodford Bourne. I think the above name is kinda catchy, no?

What's in your wine?

I watched this programme last night with the above title and was expecting to cringe at the awful discoveries about to unfold. The truth was a bit more mundane with tales of producers adding sugar (knew that) and / or acid (knew about that), that big branded champagnes aren't much good (knew that) and that there are rogue producers doing all sorts of dodgy things (knew that).

There was a lot of concerned frowning and soft questioning, but little in the way of anything new or newsworthy.

The point of the programme seemed to be to campaign for labelling of ingredients on wine, a measure that I would be in favour of as the good producers would have nothing to hide. Of course, the large wine factories who hold all the power are dead set against it, so probably won't happen.

In the meantime, the advise she didn't give us was to choose wine made from trustworthy family wineries who are genuinely concerned to produce a wine that reflects their own philosophy, their family history and the origins of the wine rather than wine from factories which is confected to appeal to the lowest common denominator in terms of price and coca cola tastebuds. As I have said before, if you care about what you drink go and talk to your local wine merchant. If you don't, the supermarkets have plenty of choice, probably at "half price" ( see previous posts).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Here's to Irish restaurants....

Just back from Prague for the weekend and we had a fab time - beautiful city, great hotel (thanks again, Kieran - check out www.bookassist.com) and was really impressed with the city in general. The prices for food and drink in the city centre were on a par with Dublin both in terms of price and quality.

I always find that when I am in a capital city abroad, the prices are as dear, if not more so, than Dublin. We all have stories of great meals at low prices at local restaurants abroead, but we have to be realistic and compare like with like. Firstly, that local restaurant has probably been in the family for generations and they don't have expensive leases to pay. Secondly, they have accesst ogreat, cheap local ingredients, something that is hard to get in Ireland. You can't compare a local place in the country in the south of Spain with your local restaurant in Dublin - it just isn't fair.

My experience is that prices are there or thereabouts and I know for a fact that the restaurant business is a hard one in which to make money. The same is true for retail, by the way, small retail is a tough way to make a living.

The ones that will survive the current downturn are the ones that offer fair value, good service and good product. WE certainly try to be in that group, but there is a shake-up on the way - watch out for casualties in small retail, restaurants and other sectors.

Your local restaurant is probably not trying to rip you off, so don't be too critical. If they are ripping you off, don't go!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Off to Prague

Pam and myself are off to Prague for the weekend on a non-wine tasting weekend. Looking forward to a few good beers over the weekend!

Will report when i get back.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Foradori Tasting this weekend

Continuing our Italian tour for September, this weekend we will be tasting wine from one of our favourite producers, Foradori. Elisabetta makes just 3 wines - 2 reds and a white. The reds are made from Teroldego Rotaliano, a variety rarely seen outside its home area of Trentino. Normally, this variety makes pretty shoddy wine, not helped by the large yields common in the area. Foradori wines are a world apart, however. They have a richness, complexity and balance that makes these some of the best reds from Northern Italy. The white is a blend of Sauvignon and local variety Incrocio Manzoni - delicious and unusual as well. Worth calling in to try.

We will also have a couple of wines from St. Michael Eppan - the Riesling Montiggl and the Pinot Bianco. These wines from Alto Adige are renowned for their freshness, purity of fruit and clean flavours.

Hope you can come along, tasting runs Friday - Sunday,

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Roederer Dinner

Demand for champagne continues to go through the roof worldwide, thanks to the nouveau riche in China and India. It's so vulgar, these people with lots of money. Anyway, to launch Roederer's new packaging (very smart) we were at a dinner in Harvey Nichols restaurant in Dundrum shopping centre (very bling).

I have to say I have always thought the Roederer non-vintage Brut Premier is one of the best champagnes on the market. Bollinger is nice as well, more full-bodied etc, but Brut Premier is always elegant and balanced and very classy. AS well has Brut Premier, we had the Rose which is delicious and very hard to get. Then we had Cristal 2002 which is already very tasty. but with a long life ahead of it. After that, we had Chateau de Pez 2003 from Saint Estephe (owned by Roederer). This was drinking beautifully, ripe, pure with soft tannins and a really nice glass. WE finished with the 10 YO Tawny from Ramos Pinto. Then more Brut Premier.

There was food as well which was excellent throughout.

Nothing like champagne on a Monday to get your week off to an appropriate start.

Bussola Valpolicella TB

Pieropan Soave 2007 is fresh delicate and delicious. Degani's stuff I have written about before and the Bussola Valpolicella TB was outstanding. This wine is more of an Amarone than a Valpolicella. Full, rich, Christmassy stuff with loads of complexity and character. Great, great wine. The only thing about it is, it is as volatile as Tommaso himself. Wild and funky on the nose, but that's not the only funny thing. I opened a bottle last Wednesday with Ian in Chapter One because I was keen to try it and so was he. I knew we had the tasting in the shop on Friday so I vacuumed it and kept it till Friday. By which time it was oxidised! This is a wine should get better being open for a couple of days, so I was a bit disappointed. So, if you buy this wine be sure you are in a position to drink it in one sitting. At 14.5% alcohol and flavour and body galore, just get yourself in the mood, that's all I'm saying. It's still gorgeous though.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Charity Balls

I was very kindly invited to charity ball in the Four Seasons on Saturday night (thanks, again Kieran) and it just occurred to me that these things seem so 2007 (not trying to sound like a Dalkey teenager). We had a great night as we were with people who are great fun and out for a good time, but a couple of things struck me about the whole scene...

These things seem to be populated by people who do this for a living, it's all fake tan and faker smiles, air kissing and haw hawing all round. But the mood was different this year. It just seemed a bit .... subdued. The lecture on the economy by the auctioneer before trying to get us to cough up large amounts of money for signed rugby jerseys and other assembled useless things didn't help to cheer anyone either.

Anyway, the wine was donated by somebody and it was Caliterra Sauv Blanc and Cabernet from Chile. All I can say about it is it was a nice natural way to curb your consumption of booze for the night. And no, before you ask, I can't afford to sponsor something better. Anyway, we hit the bar for pints of black stuff later on, so I easily reached my target consumption of units of alcohol for the week again.

It's not Dunnes...

Despite this morning's rant, don't think I have anything against Dunnes because I don't. I actually think they have some interesting wines at reasonable prices. It's just these stupid "sales" that seem to happen now in all the major multiples, Tesco and Superquinn if anything are worse.

Just sorry to see Dunnes are following the same route of duping their customers...

How come the wine journos don't pick up on these things? Surely they should be championing the consumer rather than writing massively inappropriate articles about Georgian wine the same week the country is getting pounded by Putin & Co.? Yes, that is you, Tomas Clancy, stop talking down the back!

Ok, I'm calming down now. Focus on the Roederer dinner I am going to tonight, nothing like a glass of Cristal to calm the nerves so long as someone else is paying. Mind you, I have a bone to pick with Searson's as well, but it will wait. Till tomorrow.

Dunnes Stores Bogus Sale

Dunnes has a Bordeaux sale on at the moment and it follows the fine tradition of supermarket wine sales by being completely bogus. This is how it works:

1. Import/buy a wine specifically for the sale.
2. Apply the normal margin and VAT to work out the retail price.
3. Add on the percentage that the consumer will "save".
4. Mark it back down to the "sale" price and advertise accordingly.

Thus, a wine that should normally sell for €6.99 will be advertised as "Was €13.99, Now €6.99 - SAVE 50%!!!

How people fall for this always amazes me.

Let me give you some examples from the Dunnes "sale".

Haut Medoc de Giscours 2002 - was €26.99, now €18.08. We have imported this wine for many years and the 2004 vintage currently sells in the shop at €19.99. We tasted the 2002 (offered to us at a lower price) and thought it wasn't up to scratch, so we moved straight from the 2001 to the 2004. There is no way this wine should ever be €26.99 so why advertise it as such?

Chateau Batailley 2002, Pauillac - was €49.99, now €29.99 save 40%! Again, the 2001 is available at a regular price of €39.99 - the watery 2002 should be a bit cheaper, so where is the bargain?

Chateau Maucaillou 2005, Moulis - was €39.99 now €29.99 - decent wine, decent vintage, but it is never €39.99! Again, no value to be had.

I could go on, but I think the point is made. I have complained to the Director of Consumer Affairs about this previously but to no avail. Legally, a product is supposed to be on sale for 30 days previous to the sale at the full price, before it can be used as a "Was...Now..." sale line. Did anybody see Haut Medoc de Giscours in Dunnes at €26.99? I would love to hear from you if you did.

Dunnes are the self-proclaimed biggest sellers of wine in the Irish market - is this the best they can come up with?! Watch out for more market share slippage to the deutschers!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brian's Big Budget

Well, Brian Cowen has taken time out from singing at fleadh cheoils in Offaly to finally take charge of the economy and is bringing the budget forward to Oct 14th. Poor George Lee is going to wet himself if he gets any more excited. Watch out for duty increases on wine, as predicted by yours truly.

Duty is already obscenely high and is driving people north to Newry and south to Le Havre to buy their wine. An increase will make a difficult winter even trickier for wine importers and the hospitality trade alike.

Don't do it, Brian - use your imagination and do something interesting to stimulate the economy rather than harking back to the 1970s and the Minister of Hardship etc....